National Post

Page URL:

Monday, June 05, 2000

Canada to push for lesbians' rights at UN conference
Vatican's role questioned: Protections for lesbians were rejected five years ago
Luiza Chwialkowska
National Post

Tom Hanson, The Canadian Press
Dr. Hedy Fry, minister for the status of women, responds to questions in the House of Commons last week. Dr. Fry heads Canada's delegation to the UN conference on women's equality, which opens today. Canada will urge member states to condemn discrimination against women based on sexual orientation.

UNITED NATIONS - As one of the leading negotiators at the United Nations conference on women's equality that opens today, the Canadian government plans to lead the agenda on the most divisive issues facing member states. Canada will seek an end to discrimination against lesbians around the world and will push for a formal recognition of women's sexual rights.

Five years after tens of thousands of women converged in Beijing and 189 governments negotiated a shared action plan for enhancing women's rights, ministers are meeting throughout the week to review their progress and to set new goals.

At the conference, titled Beijing +5, Canada will use its negotiating clout as the chair of a committee representing Japan, the U.S., and several non-EU European countries, to incorporate as much "progressive" language as possible into the declaration that will emerge from the meeting.

Canada will seek to block any effort to water down the 1995 declaration, whose recognition of the reproductive rights of women, and strong language affirming the human rights of women regardless of culture, are now disputed by some Islamic and Roman Catholic states.

"We will not support any regression from Beijing. That was hard won and hard negotiated and people who didn't like it are now coming back and trying to change it after the fact," Dr. Hedy Fry, secretary of state for multiculturalism and the status of women, and head of Canada's delegation, said in an interview.

Seeking a new "forward-looking" declaration, Canada will urge member states to condemn discrimination against women based on sexual orientation, racial and ethnic origin, aboriginal status, and disability. It will also ask governments to design policy that will address the needs of "marginalized" groups.

Protections for lesbians were proposed and rejected by delegates five years ago in Beijing.

"We're going to go to the wall on it," said Dr. Fry, who does not rule out a repeat defeat.

The Beijing platform of 1995 called on governments to pursue women's equality through hundreds of commitments, including the education of girls, property and inheritance rights, the condemnation of rape as a war crime, and the recognition of women's rights over childbearing.

While some countries argue the platform went too far, Canada plans to push further.

Clauses in the document that call for decriminalization of homosexuality, an end to female-genital mutilation, marital rape, forced marriage and honour crimes, promotion of sexual education and contraception, and AIDS prevention, are all surrounded by brackets, signifying they are under dispute.

Dissident Catholic groups, like Catholics for Free Choice Canada, are challenging the Vatican's role at the conference and are calling for the UN to strip it of its "observer state" status to prevent it from blocking negotiations on sexual rights and contraception.

Dr. Fry will urge other countries to adopt the Liberal government's policy of "gender management systems," which use "gender-based analysis" to remedy differences in the way proposed laws affect men and women. She said Canada will leave a heavy imprint on the declaration that emerges from the conference. "Canada is often responsible for more than 50% of the language in UN declarations," she said, citing Canada's consensus-building approach and skill in finding "culturally sensitive language."

(Each link opens a new window)
  • United Nations: Beijing+5
    The main site for the conference otherwise known as "Women 2000." Also check out this PDF document discussing strategies for implementing the five-year-old Beijing platform.
  • Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action
    What was agreed upon in Beijing.
  • Status of Women Canada
    The Beijing+5 page of the ministry headed by Hedy Fry.
  • Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action
    A critique of the Beijing+5 conference.
  • WomenWatch
    The UN agency attempting to advance women's rights across the world.
  • Holy See
    The official web site of the Vatican, a criticized participant in the talks.
  • Copyright © Southam Inc. "National Post Online is a production of Southam Inc., Canada's largest publisher of daily newspapers."